Atheism in Confucianism

Hsün-tzu: the "Heterodox" champion

Hsün-tzu or Hsün Ch'ing (ca. 298-238 bc) was a native of Chao, but much of his life was spent in Ch'i, where he was one of the "great officers" of the court and an active member of a group of scholars and teachers at the capital. ... He held that "man is by nature bad; his goodness is only acquired training." ...

These views led Hsün-tzu to emphasize, even more than Confucius did, the importance of li, the ceremonies and rules of proper conduct which are the legacy left by the great sage-kings to after-times. The state should undertake to enforce education in li upon disorderly humanity. ...In his attitude toward Heaven (T'ien), Hsün-tzu leaned far over in the direction of the Taoists' impersonal, naturalistic Way (Tao). Heaven is not to be anthropomorphically viewed, for it is just our name for the law of compensation operating within cosmic events; and one cannot ever expect it to respond to prayer. ...

All natural events, then, come to pass according to natural law. There are no supernatural agencies anywhere. So sure was Hsün-tzu of this that he took the radical step of denying the existence of spirits: neither the popular gods nor the demons nor even the ancestral spirits exist. ...

Hsün-tzu was obliged in the light of these naturalistic viewes to re-evaluate the funeral and sacrificial ceremonies inherited from the great sage-kings. He took a down-to-earth view of the matter. Rites and ceremonies are good for people. Nothing supernatural occurs during them; but they have a valuable subjective effect in allowing the expression and catharsis of human feeling, while introducing beauty into human life, and cultivating a sense of propriety. ... The aesthetic value of ceremony appealed especially to Hsün-tzu.

H.H. Dubs, the Works of Hsüntse translated from the Chinese (Probsthain: London 1928)---see also the section on Chu Hsi, p 391-2

- John B. Noss, Man's religions (Macmillan: NY 1956) p 378-380

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created 1jun1996, revised 20mar98     |     comments on this site? tpkunesh@atheisms.info